The African State and Special Procedures: Agency, Leverage and Legitimacy

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This chapter explores the international politics of the Special Procedures (SP) systems and focuses particularly on the following questions: why, and how, do states engage with these systems – and with what purposes? The engagement of African states with UN Special Procedures and African Union (AU) Special Rapporteurs is given central prominence herein.

The chapter challenges the notion of African state ‘weakness’ in the international system through examining how African states interact with both UN and AU systems to maximise agency and political space. Focusing on African engagement and non-engagement with the seven UN and AU thematic mandates which mirror one another – and complemented by interview data collected from UNHRC personnel in Geneva and state officials in Eastern Africa – we argue that some African states have successfully enhanced their voice and room for manoeuvre within international human rights architectures through strategically engaging and disengaging with different parts of different systems and, indeed, through instrumentalising their perceived weaknesses.

In doing so, we also reflect on the extent to which the UN and AU systems complement or contradict one another in their approaches to engaging the continent’s political elite. We conclude by arguing for a more systematic exchange between the two systems.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe United Nations Special Procedures System
EditorsAoife Nolan, Rosa Freedman, Therese Murphy
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)978-9004304703
ISBN (Print)978-9004304697
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2017


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